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Summer of Chimpanzees

One day last summer, email correspondents of Brittany Fallon '11 found this message in their inboxes:

HELLO!  Everything in Uganda is lovely, as always. We've recently had some  really great days in especially lovely parts of the forest, full of tall  buttressed trees with sprawling roots, located next to a part of the river  that meanders and babbles through a clearing.  The chimpanzees are still tricky to track, but that's to be expected of a population that's only  semi-habituated. Luckily, the time we do get to spend with them (maybe 2 hours out of a 9 hour day) make the rest of the time completely worth it!

 Days spent deep in the forest are always very welcome - it's currently the  little dry season here. (As the Ugandans explain it, seasons are divided into four: wet season, dry season, little wet season, and little dry season),  and everything is SO DUSTY. I'm positive I've consumed enough dirt just from
breathing to fill in the Sunken Garden! We walk to the forest at 6:45 every morning, when the sun is just rising…and holy cow, does the sun know how to rise in Africa! Every day is a brilliant spread of color, ranging anywhere  from pale pinks/blues and deep purples to flaming oranges & reds.

Fallon's evocative description captures a bit of her 10-week observation of the chimpanzees at Kasokwa, a fragment of forest in Uganda's Masindi District. As an anthropology concentrator and rising senior honors student working with faculty member Barbara King, Fallon was invited to Kasokwa by primatologist Janette Wallis, the site's research director.

Together with graduate students at the site, Fallon lived in Kibwona, a small village on the outskirts of the forest. While there, she enjoyed becoming a part of the community and spending time with its people.

Although the bulk of her time was spent following and collecting data on the chimpanzees, Fallon did make several excursions within Uganda. During one, she visited with Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist who was taping a '60 Minutes' television special celebrating her 50th year of chimpanzee research.

Brittany Fallon and Jane Goodall

Now, working on her honors thesis, Fallon takes time to reflect on her time in Uganda: "This summer was a life-defining experience," she comments. "I truly enjoyed the wondrous excitement and adventure that comes from a first trip to Africa."

Her summer's work was funded by a Nathan Altshuler Scholarship (in Anthropology) and an Honors Fellowship (from the Charles Center). Her thesis's goal is to apply the knowledge she acquired about the wild apes' foraging behavior to help enrich the lives of chimpanzees in captivity.

King remarks that in her 22 years of teaching at the College, she had never before helped arrange an African field experience for an undergraduate.  "Brittany's an exceptional person," King says. "She came to this project with extensive volunteer experience in ape enrichment at Save the Chimps, a renowned sanctuary in her home state of Florida. Despite a heavy schedule here at the College, she enjoys creating enrichment items for the chimpanzees at the Metro Richmond Zoo. She cares deeply about apes and is on track to make key contributions in science and to make a real difference in apes' lives."

Fallon expects to begin graduate work in primate studies in fall 2011.